The Nebraska Cornhuskers have a prime opportunity to win the Big Ten conference in 2011 due to their talent, the ability to overcome the obstacles in their path and the coaches involved on both sidelines.
This isn’t to say that the road to glory isn’t covered with tacks and tripwires, but Nebraska finds itself in a similar position to that of their final Big 12 conference season.
Ten major puzzle pieces need to slide into place just right for the Cornhuskers to represent the newly-expanded Big Ten.
2010 brought a recruiting class bursting with talent.
It’s easy to stare at a highlight film and hype a player up, but Nebraska's recruiting class is full of athletes that have put on fantastic displays during their high school days.
All-Everything Bubba Starling could do the seemingly inconceivable and pass up a major league baseball contract to play football for the Cornhuskers.
Freshman sensation Aaron Green has impressed all over the Longhorn State with his elusiveness and staggering speed.
Highly-ranked offensive linemen are flocking to Lincoln, including Ryan Klachko of Illinois
During a recent interview on the Nebraska athletics sports show Big Red Wrap-Up, Klachko said, “Every single play, my mission on is to put the guy in front of me on the ground and if he's not pancaked, buried, done, out of the play. I consider I lost that play."
"I put them on the ground," he continued, "Bury them, play angry, play aggressive, play violent, it's football, it's not a non-contact sport, you have a helmet for a reason and I'm going to use it."
With the departures of Shawn Watson, Ted Gilmore and Marvin Sanders, Bo Pelini truly finds himself with a staff all his own.
The remnants of the Bill Callahan era left with Watson and Gilmore prompting the promotion of then-running backs coach Tim Beck.
Ron Brown moved from coaching tight ends to running backs, likely due to his penchant for producing tough yet humble players.
Barney Cotton received some help in the form of former Nebraska center John Garrison who will be working with side by side with the long-time Pelini staff staple.
Garrison will also be working with the tight ends, likely showing them proper blocking technique for more powerful formations.
Ross Els takes over for the departed Mike Ekeler at the linebackers spot and finally, Corey Raymond takes over for Sanders.
Els appears a stark contrast from his predecessor who was known for his fiery demeanor.
Raymond held a similar position at fellow Big Ten school Indiana for only two months before leaving to tend to the Cornhuskers’ secondary.
The initial reaction to these changes has been positive both on and off campus. Positivity breeds nothing less than success.
With the new staff in place and another recruiting cycle done, a sense of renewed focus is in the ever-warming Lincoln air.
Very soon, spring football practice will begin.
The new teachers and their pupils will start to learn about one another.
Under the watchful eye of Bo Pelini, the defense will likely not miss a beat.
The offense as a whole must be giddy to see what Tim Beck will be throwing up on the chalkboard considering the sputtering of the past few years.
An interesting note: Beck was the passing game coordinator at the University of Kansas during the Jayhwaks’ 2007 season.
Kansas went 12-1 and ended the season ranked No. 7 with a victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Could such a fate be in store for Nebraska due to Beck's offense?
When Nebraska’s schedule was initially released, many laughed, even the Cornhuskers themselves.
The humor wasn’t due to lack of proper opposition, though.
A Big Ten “Murderer’s Row” had been set up for Nebraska’s first season as a member of its new conference as they face all three Big Ten Champions from last year along with trips to Penn State and Michigan.
The key for the Cornhuskers will be to get out of the starting gate quickly.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga should provide fine fodder for Nebraska to get rolling.
Things only get mildly difficult as Fresno State, the Jake Locker-less Washington Huskies and Wyoming finish off the Cornhuskers’ out of conference schedule.
While the Big Ten slalom will likely not be kind, if Nebraska can find success early, they can continue snowballing positivity into success.
Nebraska had to have felt like the odd school out in the Big 12.
Early in the conference's formation, during votes, such as one for the conference’s championship game to take place at all, there was often one lone “nay”: The Cornhuskers’.
Funds weren’t split equally and things seemed to favor much of the Big 12 South.
This becomes even more apparent as now that Nebraska steps into a conference welcoming them as equals, the Texas Longhorns have signed a multi-million dollar deal with ESPN for their own television network.
The Cornhuskers don’t have to worry about not being listened to in the Big Ten.
They fit right in.
Two of the greatest coaches that ever took to a clipboard in Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne reunite.
Matchups are already forming that national audiences can’t wait to see like the Cornhuskers’ tilts with Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The Big Ten wants to play against Nebraska, not work against them.
While Nebraska experienced their own turnover, Bo Pelini still remains King of the Big Red Castle.
Brady Hoke and Jerry Kill may look to change the fortunes of Michigan and Minnesota, respectively, but Bo knows his talent.
He already knows how to lace together a proper defense with them.
Beck has been working with the Nebraska backfield for years now.
There’s no doubt he has a clear vision as well.
Hoke and Kill seem to have much support, but Nebraska is simply looking for its offensive identity, not a whole new one.
Referring back to Nebraska’s schedule, the “Murderer’s Row” suddenly doesn’t look so treacherous.
One would be foolish to suggest that playing Wisconsin or Ohio State would be a cake walk, but consider the following about some key teams that the Cornhuskers will face in 2011:
Washington: Loses key player in Jake Locker
Wisconsin: Nickel backs/assistant linebackers coach Greg Jackson left for the 49ers, running backs coach John Settle left for the Carolina Panthers, quarterback Scott Tolzien is headed for the NFL along with running back John Clay and a litany of other key players.
Ohio State: Five players including quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Daniel Herron will make their first start five games into the season in what will likely be a loud and lively Lincoln.
Michigan: Hoke may be just the thing for Michigan, but their defense won’t be fixed in one season. The Wolverines’ secondary covered receivers last year like a lobster trap attempting to catch minnows.
The Cornhuskers will be poised on a national stage to do something huge.
Regardless of how the inaugural 12-team Big Ten season runs, it will be heavily covered by all sports media and that means big things for whomever takes home the championship.
A familiar scenario for Nebraska since 1996, the Cornhuskers have a favorable chance to run their division and hop on a plane to Indianapolis for the first ever Big Ten Conference Championship Game.
If the aforementioned momentum builds to this point, defeating the Cornhuskers on a mission will be a tall task.
Nebraska would likely face a familiar foe if they get to Lucas Oil Stadium, however and a rematch usually favors the previous losing team.
There’s only one thing that opposing defensive coordinators know for sure about Tim Beck: His name.
Beck could take Nebraska’s offense in several directions, all of which would be favorable versus Big Ten defenses.
Nebraska could run an offense very similar to what TCU employs.
The Spread Option has been suggested.
With the Big Ten being a far more physical conference than the Big 12 when it comes to defense, that seems unlikely as a base offense, though.
Perhaps something "Tebowesque" a la Urban Meyer's national championship-winning days at Florida?
Then again, who knows?
Those who get paid to worry about it won't be envied.
Some see Bo Pelini as a crass, rude, boorish jerk of a man.
Others see a defensive genius.
Some see both.
Regardless of how you view Pelini, he knows how to cripple an offense and that’s what matters.
In this conference averaging 28 points can mean a near-guaranteed double-digit season win total.
That means with proper talent, Pelini has the chance to rule the Big Ten with an iron, scarlet-tinted fist.
He just has to actually take advantage of opportunity while it's knocking.
Pelini’s defense prides itself on tradition.
A tradition built on pain and sacrifice.
The blue-collar, lunch pail type of tradition that the Big Ten loves.
This conference is perfect for a man like Bo Pelini.
Perhaps that will help his blood pressure come college football Saturdays.
Still, thanks to these reasons, Nebraska will have its opportunity to shine in the Big Ten, to topple both the leaders and the legends, and to finally see a BCS bowl for the first time in a decade.
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